Trio Spain: Barcelona, San Sebastian, Madrid

My Spain adventures began in at the Bratislava airport. I had to move out of my apartment in Vienna on the 30th of June. It only made sense to fly out on that day as well. I booked two flights with the budget airline Ryanair. Anyone whom has flown with this airline knows the experience all too well. Cheap flights, running and fighting your way to be first on the plane to get a good seat and of course, the trumpet call at the end for “another on time flight”. Everyone knows they exaggerate the arrival time so they always arrive 10-15 minutes early. Well I shouldn’t say always after Thursday….

It was cloudy– slightly drizzly weather in Bratislava. My flight from Bratislava to Milan was supposed to leave at 6:30. 6:25 comes around and the crowd is still corralled up… Not giving any indications that we would be moving anytime soon. Normally I am pretty flexible with traveling but the problem was I might have booked a “layover” in Milan– but layovers with Ryanair are much different from a normal airline. To Ryanair, despite having multiple flights booked with them, they are unrelated. This means when I was to land in Milan, I would exit the airport, go back to the check in desk, do my visa check, go back through security, to get back to my gate. If you are to miss a flight –even if it were because you were late from another Ryanair flight– you would be s.o.l.

I will admit– I get anxious on travel days. My sister makes fun of me about it but to my defense, if I have already spent money on an expensive flight, I would prefer not to miss it to add to the headache and would prefer to use money used for re-booking on something else. When our departure time came and went and we were still in the airport– I started getting anxious. 5… 10… 15… 20… 30 minutes after our departure time pass. I am keeping one eye on the Ryanair worker and another on my watch. I only had an hour layover and was terrified I was going to miss my flight. The Ryanair lady tells us it is because of weather, we aren’t boarding (as the planes on either side of ours are arriving and departing in the “bad weather”….) FINALLY (for my sanity) we begin to board. We departed the airport 40 minutes after scheduled.

We arrive in Milan to find buses outside of the plane to take us to the correct entrance. I will admit, when I am on a time limit, I despise this concept. You always have the mother that is taking her time exiting the plane; talks with others, decides she wants to change her child’s outfit (okay… Maybe an exaggeration but she will take her sweet time). The bus must wait for everyone before departing, so it is trying for someone like me. After everyone is loaded up– I kid you not– we drive 20 feet up and the doors open for us to exit. This truly frustrates me and I push through the crowd to begin my airport process again. I am basically running at this point and I make it to my gate just in time…. For the sign to change to “DELAYED”. My flight to Spain was delayed by few hours that we would be departing after our scheduled arrival. As I am standing there, I recognize a guy that had been on my previous flight. I strike up conversation with him and after chatting, we go to find a spot to hang out for our second delayed Ryanair flight of the way. Needless to say, we did not hear the trumpet calls that day.

The guy was from Brazil and studying in Barcelona for the semester. He said he was actually dating a girl named Taylor from Texas, so he didn’t have any difficulty pronouncing my name like some foreigners I meet. We chat waiting for our flight and on the plane.  We arrived at the Barcelona airport after 1 am which was not good news for us. The last bus/train from the airport to Barcelona runs at 1 am. We are trying to be resourceful. He offers to split a cab. Yes… I have seen the movie Taken and that was the immediate thought I had when he suggested that. I then suggest to go ask Information since I figure there has to be another way –they can’t force an entire plane to take taxis. We finally had luck on our side. A night bus came by once an hour. No taxi sharing with random guys at the airport for me 🙂 we take the 40 minute bus ride in and he tells me which stop to get off so I can walk the remaining 20 minutes to my hostel. It is after 2 am at this point. Gotta say, I walked down one of the main streets and the only people out in Barcelona on a Thursday night at 2 am were some pretty sketch men. Didn’t see a single female.

I was meeting my friend Susan on the 2nd in Barcelona so I had a full day to myself. I didn’t want to start sight-seeing since I thought that wouldn’t make much sense, so I headed to the beach with two Aussie girls from my room. I have been to the beaches in Germany before but this was my first time in Spain. My roommate warned me but the sight of so many topless girls still took awhile for me to soak in. I have my tan lines because I couldn’t throw 21 years of teaching out the window but I will say, it was a bit of a culture shock. There were girls from age 4 to women in their 80s topless. I tried to talk to Aussie girls about it. I explained that I think I was more disturbed seeing the younger girls than older. They were confused by this since obviously younger girls haven’t hit puberty yet. I explained that younger girls always are covered back home (whither a culture thing or to protect from perverts, etc) and we try to protect younger children from that exposure. Maybe that is part of the American culture. Maybe it is from growing up in the Bible belt of the South. Either way, I thought younger girls running around topless would have been deemed inappropriate back home.

I got to meet up with Jessica (friend from home that visited me in Vienna). She hadn’t really explored the night life of Barcelona so we decided to go try to find some famous bar that Hemingway drank absinthe at. I am not sure if this place ever has heard of the creation of the a/c. The place looked like it probably looked when Hemingway visited. The place was covered in dust and looked like it could have been an authentic saloon from the Wild West days. That was an experience.

The next I met Susan at the airport. We spent the next few days exploring Barcelona–especially all the Gaudi work. One night we met up with Jessica and two of her classmates for a 10 pm dinner (we were being Spanish 🙂 ). Susan was tired from her flight and one of the classmates headed home as well so Jessica, Sam and I went searching for this legendary night life of Barcelona. No such luck. We went to places recommended by books and online, went down the main streets, and went to a few places locals recommended. Nothing good. We were out at the lively hours and still nothing. I know this is pretty unbelievable but I truly believe Athens, Georgia (especially after a football game) is more lively than the “legendary”  Barcelona. Maybe Athens really does deserve our number one ranking in party schools in the US….

The last day in Barcelona, Susan and I headed to the train station to buy our tickets to San Sebastian. We got there and pulled number 11. I think, “okay. Not that long of a wait” since the station was on 497 and I figured the numbers started over at 500. WRONG! 500 came around and then 501… The numbers would go to a 1,000 before it started over! How are over 1,000 people waiting, trying to buy train tickets?!? In Austria, they had automatic ticket machines and you could walk up and buy one ten minutes before hoping on the train. Even if you wanted to get a person to help you with your purchase, I have NEVER had more than three people in front of me. Efficiency. I go find some automatic ticket machines and 1. They did not have an English option at all 2. The tickets we needed couldn’t be bought on that machine. We find some English speakers and they said they had been there for over three hours waiting for roughly 200 numbers. At this point, it is 2 pm and we figure they aren’t going to run all night so will probably stop seeing people at a certain time. Susan and I begin having a back up plan of if we can’t get tickets to San Sebastian, etc. Well we lucked out. A girl came up and gave us her number that she didn’t need anymore. It was 664 so 164 away but better than essentially being 1011st! We thank her and begin waiting. We waited over two hours more and that is with the ticket being time stamped at 11 am! CRAZY! If you ever want train tickets for Spain, be sure to buy them ahead of time!

We finally got our tickets and the next morning, caught our train to San Sebastian. We had one change so had to get off and wait at the train station for an hour. That is when something weird happened. We were siting there and this old man tries to talk to us. He is talking too fast for ne to comprehend and I tell him this. Then these two younger guys –roughly our age– come up, flash us their police badge (while traveling, honestly how would I know if real or fake) and ask for our passports. We comply but they throughly search our passports. Susan had her passport stolen in Greece so just had a temporary one and that seemed to confuse them for a bit. They were going through all our entrance and exit stamps carefully and checking out our visas.  Susan kept asking why they had our passports so long and what was the problem and they would say nothing but still search our passports and talk to each other. I was ready to run after them if it was a scam and they tried to make a run for it. I have had passport checks while on trains and before when I have crossed borders, but NEVER while just sitting somewhere. We weren’t on the train at the time (for all they knew, we could have never planned to be on train and were just waiting for people) and we weren’t crossing borders going from Barcelona to San Sebastian. I still don’t know what was up with that. There were two other Americans there (middle-aged couple) and they didn’t get checked– neither did older man trying to speak to us earlier. He even spoke with the two police guys for bit but didn’t seem like he was with them. I spoke with an Irish lady on my train in Portugal and she said some countries (like France) you must have identification at all times and they can randomly ask for it. She suggested Spain might be the same but who knows. That was really unexpected.

We finally arrived in San Sebastian with our passports and went to check into the hotel. The hotel ran out of the double rooms that we booked so upgraded us to a three bedroom apartment suite. Talk about a NICE perk–especially after staying in hostels. We then went out and explored the city. The city was BEAUTIFUL!!! Very authentic feeling with the lack of tourists. We walked to the beach and then around town. We found a nice tapas bar to eat at and since we didn’t know what to order, just told the waitress to bring us something she recommended. You would never do that in the States! The waitress or waiter would automatically bring the most expensive item on the menu. Europe seems different– especially somewhere like San Sebastian where they are known for food. She seemed to truly want us to enjoy what we were eating. We got our tapas and don’t have a clue what we were eating– but it was amazing. That is a big step for someone who was as picky of an eater as myself as a kid. During the meal, we enjoyed watching the locals play soccer with the kids in the middle of the square. The town just had a great atmosphere.

The following day, the weather was too cold for the beach, but we walked to the funicular to catch a ride up to get a view of the city. The view was UNBELIEVABLE! I just wish the sun was shining to make the pictures that much better. There was this fair thing at the top of the mountain that was a little strange, but I guess it added to the culture. We were sad that our stay in San Sebastian was so short but we had to catch a train to Madrid the next morning so Susan could fly back home and I could fly to Portugal.

I am sad that I only gave Madrid a day. Reading Lonely Planet, there aren’t that many sites besides museums but Clara (roomie) is from there and she could have given me the more local experience. When Susan and I arrived, we went to the famous plaza to grab a late lunch. That lunch might have been the highlight of my day. Our waiter became fascinated with me — being American or what, I don’t know. I figured he would hit on Susan since she is the blonde and there aren’t many blondes in Spain. Apparently I was wrong. He literally came to our table between serving each customer and was really pulling out the cheesy lines. Susan had a good laugh because I had my back to the restaurant and she would tell me how he would glance over at our table four or five times while taking another table’s order. He tried to bring me olives and asked if I liked them, but I politely declined.   I even got some free chips since olives weren’t a success. As Susan said, it was like out of a movie. I have witnessed friends getting hit on or heard some out there lines before, but this guy was almost over the top. He tried to get us to come out that night but we declined. Susan, “your eyes are as deep as the ocean… Don’t you want to love someone who loves you?” Like I said, comical meal.

Susan called it an early night and I met up with my roomie and another friend from Vienna. We apparently met a celebrity during the night. At the end of the night, we asked this guy nearby if he would take our picture and he kind of is taken back. He asks if we want a picture with this particular person in his group and we again say we just want a picture taken of us three girls. Clara explained later that he was taken back because the other person in the guy’s group was a famous person in Spain from a reality show and the guy was so used to getting asked if he would take a photo of someone and his friend and so he was surprised when we just wanted a photo of us. Never realize who you might come across when you are in public!

The following morning, Susan and I made our trek to the airport and parted. Susan’s European adventures had come to a close and I still had one more country to conquer.

(The next post chronically would be the Porto, Portugal post. Apologize for not posting in order.)

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